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Know your rights as a spouse in a common-law state

As the spouse of a person who has passed away, you are not certain about how well their will can hold up in court. They willed away several of the assets that you'd like to keep in your possession. As the spouse of the decedent, you believe that everything should pass to you.

As the surviving spouse, you should know that the state you're in makes a difference. Tennessee is a common-law state, which means that you are not entitled to a half interest in all property that was acquired while you were married.

Why does it matter what state you're in?

In a common-law state, the person's name on a title makes a difference. For example, if your home is only in your spouse's name, then the likelihood is that they could potentially will it away without you having a right to it. There are special rules that apply, though, to protect you from complete disinheritance.

For example, you can claim one-third of your deceased spouse's property regardless of the will. Even if your spouse only left you a quarter or less of the estate, you'd have a right to go to court to seek the full amount allowed by law. However, you must act quickly, because a will can be carried out as written if you don't go to court to seek a change or if you agree with the amount you've been given.

As a surviving spouse, you need to understand your rights. Our site has more on what to expect if you are the heir of an estate.

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